Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles In August 2020, while Europe was on the cusp of a devastating second wave of Covid-19, and the U.S. was struggling to find beds for its sickest patients with the virus, this was happening in Russia. But the rest of the world wasn't so sure. Russia has become the first country to give regulatory approval to a Covid-19 vaccine. But there are myriad questions and concerns already. A vaccine so quickly and from a country notorious for propaganda and deception. The issue is not about the science of the vaccine. It's about the approach that was used by the Russian government, in terms of approving and starting to use the vaccine before the phase three clinical trial data was in. Starting to use the vaccine, starting to try to export the vaccine and launching this entire propaganda campaign actually worked against the product. After first facing scrutiny on whether Russia's vaccines actually work, now the question has become whether they can meet worldwide demand. Critics and observers are now left wondering is the Kremlin playing vaccine politics as part of a campaign to undercut Western powers and their technology? Or is this a case of solid science being tainted by allegations of Russian hacking, poisonings and interference in democratic elections. Russia's scrambling to bring Covid-19 under control. Russia is battling a surge in Covid cases. The virus came late to Russia, but it is definitely here now. Russia reported its first Covid-19 cases in January in Siberia and Russia's far East. By July, officials reported almost 840,000 cases. And more than 30,000 excessive deaths. Global health experts however, have questioned the accuracy of Russia's data, deeming the number of Covid related fatalities too low given infection rates. Russia acted very swiftly to impose restrictions. It was one of the first countries to enact a total ban on the entry of Chinese citizens. And by late March, it had imposed a shutdown of its borders and a series of lockdowns across the country. Meanwhile, in Moscow, the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology named after pioneering Russian vaccine researcher Nikolay Gamaleya got to work. They called the project Sputnik V. Sputnik V is a reference to a very important date in Soviet history, which was the launch of the world's first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957 and that marked the start of the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States. In naming it after that, it's clear that Russia was positioning itself as a player in a geopolitical struggle. The first artificial Earth satellite, a world-stirring event. By May, the Gamaleya Institute had already started testing their vaccine on the center's director as well as key scientific staff. A move which seemed to place Russia ahead of other countries in the vaccine race. The institute supplied vaccines for use against the Ebola outbreak in Guinea in 2017 to 2018. The Covid-19 vaccine that they developed was based on technology they had earlier applied in an experimental inoculation against the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS. And that's what allowed Russia to go ahead relatively quickly in developing a Covid-19 vaccine. But on August 11th, when President Putin announced that Sputnik had been registered as the world's first Covid-19 vaccine, it hadn't started vital phase three trials, prompting worry among the scientific community and mockery from the Trump administration. I was extraordinarily surprised to see that announcement in August. I'm not surprised that they were working on it, not surprised they started the clinical trials, but very surprised and a little bit disturbed to see them starting to use it before they had the data. For Putin it was clearly very important to be first in the world to release and approve a vaccine. And so the entire state propaganda apparatus worked overtime to present this as a huge victory for Russian science, for the Russian pharma industry and basically as proof of Russia's superiority in areas where the country has long been written off. Isn't it premature for Russia to have approved this vaccine before phase three trials are substantially underway? No, not at all. First we were criticized but then we saw that Britain announced that they may follow suit. U.S. FDA said that they may want to register before phase three. The suspicion that this is a propaganda tool rather than actually a way to fight Covid-19 was obviously there and it was expectable that reaction. The Putin government has done a lot of ugly things to earn the suspicion and distrust of especially Western nations. So obviously there was a certain handicap to overcome and that could not be done with premature fanfare. It could only be counteracted with scientific proof and scientific proof was eventually delivered. On February 2nd, in the esteemed medical journal The Lancet, vaccine experts, professors, Polly Roy and Ian Jones reported that Sputnik V appeared safe with an efficacy rate of 91.6%. This was really a chance for Russia to dispel a lot of the skepticism surrounding the vaccine and you know whether it was actually good at combating Covid-19. I think it's fair to say that demand increased as a result of that breakthrough. In Europe, there has definitely been a change of sentiment. There are shortages of the vaccine in Europe. So, you know, now the EU is looking at a request to approve the use of Sputnik V. In addition to that several European countries, France Germany, Spain and Italy may also manufacture it. So it's definitely fair to say that there was a change of heart. Sputnik is very similar to both the AstraZeneca vaccine and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine in that it's an adenovirus vectored vaccine. And what that means is that they're using a common cold virus to deliver a little bit of the Covid virus to your own cells and sort of tricks your cells into making just a little bit of the Covid virus. And with that little bit, which is the spike protein your body's able to mount an immune response so you develop T-cells, you develop antibodies that all respond to Covid-19 if you should get infected in the future. Sputnik V is also double vectored, which means that it uses a slightly different version of the vaccine in the second dose. So protection against Covid-19 could last longer. I don't necessarily think that in terms of the vaccine itself and how it works in the body it exhibits any advantages over the mRNA system. Now vaccines like Sputnik, like AstraZeneca and like the Johnson and Johnson vaccine that are all adenovirus vector vaccines are much more stable in warmer temperatures. And so that makes this cold-chain much easier. That means the storage and the distribution is much easier. And so all of that is a real positive strength. The AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson shots have in rare cases, been connected to blood clots. Russian officials claim that Sputnik though developed in the same way hasn't caused similar side effects. All of this combined with a relatively low production cost of $10 a dose, makes Sputnik V a viable option for developing countries that are struggling to either obtain or distribute inoculations. But there are questions about how much politics will impact the vaccine's distribution. We do not do politics. And obviously vaccine is our effort to save people and it should not be politicized. Russia clearly has been using the vaccine, Sputnik V, as a way to bolster its global ambitions. In Latin America for example, Argentina has already had deliveries of two and a half million doses. It's ordered a total of 20 million. Mexico is another big buyer they've asked for 24 million doses. Russia hasn't asked any countries to pay a premium. However, it's not offering any discounts for poorer countries. So in Latin America or Africa the price is the same as anywhere else and that's approximately $10 a shot. and we know that some Western manufacturers are providing discounts for developing countries. However, Russia's pharma industry, wasn't prepared for the level of demand for Sputnik V. The RDIF, Russia's sovereign wealth fund, who were financing the vaccine had to strike production deals around the world to support the global supply for Sputnik V abroad. There are definitely still problems in ramping up production. Russia's total production of Sputnik V since the pandemic started is less than the number of vaccine shots administered every two weeks to the U.S. population. It is now promising to produce much larger quantities. Particularly in India it has a very ambitious target of 700 million two dose sets, which it is hoping to get manufactured outside Russia this year. Closer to home, there's been a lack of enthusiasm for the vaccine. With a recent poll revealing that 62% of respondents wouldn't take Sputnik V. Despite ordering mass inoculations in January, Putin himself didn't get vaccinated until seven months after the August announcement. The Kremlin said he was focusing on other inoculations. It was not made public which of the Russian vaccines he received. In a way that the traditional Russian mistrust of authority has made it easier for the government because the demand for the vaccine is not as high as it would have been elsewhere. In Russia, you can get it if you want it, but many just don't want to and perhaps even Putin's own slowness in getting vaccinated is indicative of, you know, how cautious Russians are about this whole thing. Russia has been hit especially hard by the pandemic with at least 250,000 epidemic-linked deaths Russian officials said. But the country could now hold a powerful weapon in the fight against the virus. I think the Sputnik vaccine will be a very powerful tool. I think we still have a few questions that need to be answered. I still think we want to see the final data at the end of May when the phase three trial is due to end and all of the safety data. So yes, a few small bits of data that I would like to see but I think the Sputnik vaccine will absolutely be a very powerful tool in the global vaccine campaign as well as many other vaccines that are both being developed right now, or being used in other countries. We just need to combine that sort of manufacturing and distribution with that solid clinical evaluation. And I think that we are doing that. It's made a huge difference to Russia's image. Definitely a very good tool of soft diplomacy, which has shown that Russia has the capacity to play an important role in combating this pandemic.